A few weeks ago I was teaching a weekly creativity class. This class is often focused not just on making art, but on how we take time and create space for the activities that fuel us creatively. I asked everyone to write a list of the things that felt like their ideal summer activities. I made my own list too.
Then I asked them to consider how their usual summers compared to their lists, and whether there was anything we might be able to learn from our summers past as we went into this one.
The specific activities listed offered up a few general themes. The main ones were related to rest (time in the hammock, reading a book), friends (long evening meals with good conversation), the freedom of time (no deadlines, no “to-dos”), food (fingers red with berry juice, fresh pies), and nature (salty swims, long picnics). We wanted these things, we craved these things, but — perhaps unsurprisingly — summers often went by with us having a sense that we had missed out on a few of them, or that we hadn’t taken advantage of them when we could.
I have always thought back to my childhood and that feeling on the first day of summer vacation when I woke up and there was absolutely nothing that had to be done. There was no schedule, no expectations. Time was abundant, expansive, and it was mine. It was glorious.
There is an element to childhood that doesn’t translate to adulthood — bills still need to be paid in summer, grocery shopping still has to happen — however, I still believe that whatever obstacles are in place, finding and creating moments of that expansiveness is still essential for us and our wellbeing.
I saw a meme recently on Twitter that said:
European Out-Of-Office email autoreply:
“I’m away camping for the summer. Please email back in September.”
American Out-Of-Office email autoreply:
“I have left the office for two hours to undergo kidney surgery but you can reach me on my cell at any time.”
The humor in the joke didn’t make the reality palatable, but it did serve as a reminder of how twisted our approach to work and time off has become, particularly in this season. Since the U.S. “continues to be the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation,” according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, this reality isn’t the fault of individuals, but it’s an expectation and an approach that our culture has internalized, even for those of us who are able to take vacation. We keep checking emails, we keep giving ourselves projects and deadlines, we keep “busy” because “busy” is what society has deemed as culturally valuable.
Yet “busy” doesn’t align with my ideal summer list, and I have come to realize that as much as winter has me craving slowing down, so too does this time of year. I don’t want checklists; I want the time to savor.
My friend Paula made a watercolor illustration that said: “the days we spend floating are the days we will remember as summer,” and that idea of floating rang true in a variety of ways. Floating on the water, floating in the hammock, floating in the moments in between where there isn’t anything to do except exist.
In the summer, my creative blocks and bouts of stress are best dealt with by getting in the saltwater, swimming out a ways, turning on my back, shutting my eyes, and simply floating. I am disconnected from land, which is where the to-do lists live. My ears are submerged, and unless there is a boat, the only sound is the muffled existence of the underwater world. My toes point to the sky and I float, my body an island. This is a magical place where things feel aligned.
In his book “Waterlog,” UK writer Richard Deakin has this to say: “When you swim, you feel your body for what it mostly is — water — and it begins to move with the water around it. No wonder we feel such sympathy for beached whales; we are beached at birth ourselves. To swim is to experience how it was before you were born.”
We want to find our way back to that place. We want to float, and summer is our opportunity to do just that, whether it’s in the water or not. When we float we are untethered and unrestricted. I think that we need more time to float, physically and metaphorically. Floating through time, so that time feels endless. Floating through a conversation, so that it wanders with no end. Floating through a book, so that we are lost in another world. Floating into a summer evening, so that we can stare at the stars and feel our tiny place in an expansive universe.
None of this will magically happen to us. We have to make space for it, we have to take the time. Floating requires saying no. It requires turning off the phone, turning off the news.
But just like when we were children and the world was filled with a sense of potential, imagine what we might feel if we allowed ourselves the opportunity, if we gave ourselves permission, to just float?
Anna Brones is a writer and artist who lives in Vaughn.
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